I’m not a climber. I’m fat, my bike weighs a ton, and it has a huge-ass crankset attached which I can barely churn at 100 rpm on a flat road. But I guess I have suicidal tendencies, because when Sourav came up with the idea of attacking the two Hors Categorie climbs at Yercaud (A HC climb in the summer heat of Tamil Nadu can easily qualify as one of the most brutal methods of destroying your heart, lungs, legs and mind.), the first reaction I had was:
“When do we start?”
The when turned out to be at 3:15 a.m. on the 19th of March, which coincided beautifully with the beginning of my two-week exile from the lab (Boohoo! I’m weeping! NOOOTTT! I’m finally on a vacation!) Ankit turned up at the bus station bang on time, but where was our twig-man with the Dura-Ace Di2?
We called and messaged and swore and stamped our feet (almost), but there was no sign of life on the other side.
“LEANDER WHEATLEY, YOU’RE DEAD TO US!!”
Well, not so dead. He woke up the following morning, realised (with horror, I hope.) that he’d kept his phone on silent mode, profusely apologised to us, called his girlfriend to a snappish “WHAT ARE YOU CALLING ME FOR? GO GET ON THE NEXT BUS!!”, and did as he was ‘advised’ (Lee, you lucky dog, you! *sniff*). All the better, since Ankit, Sourav and I could use the time it took him to get to Yercaud to squeeze in some extra hours of sleep. I had stayed awake the preceding night following a nearly popped vein in my brain, thanks to the bus conductor demanding 6000 rupees for the transport of our three bikes (He’d actually meant 600 but jumbled up the hundred and the thousand in translation. He can’t have been all that bright at school! Whoof!)
I had had a good look at the Salem-Yercaud climb from the auto to our guest house and, frankly, I was already in love with what I saw. My ‘skill’ at prose is insufficient to describe it, and I couldn’t possibly compose any form of poetry to save my life, so I’ll let the photos and videos do the speaking for me.
To be perfectly honest, you have to be there physically to feel the majesty of what lay before our eyes. The inadequacy of my vocabulary keeps grating against my ego.
The descent to Salem from Yercaud was exhilarating beyond anything I had ever experienced before, but there would be a steep price to be paid afterwards. 🙂
We began climbing back to Yercaud latish in the afternoon. I felt like I was being slowly roasted on a spit (Recall Bibhutibhushan’s description of an African summer in ‘Chander Pahar’. Imagine the boiler room of a steam ship if you can’t.). I could see Sourav and Lee about 500 metres ahead of me for eight kilometres, after which they were swallowed up by the folds of the switchbacks. I was now alone in my battle against gravity. Ankit was locked in his own struggle somewhere behind me. The heat was incredible. The water in my bidons had become scalding hot. Small sips followed by tiny squirts over my neck at regular intervals kept me going.
“Should I engage God Mode?” (I’ve described my God Mode elsewhere. It wipes my mind blank and brings my feeling of pain down to a minimum.)
I toyed with the idea for a while, and took a good, long look around me.
I’d be doing a great injustice to the place if I fled within myself to escape the pain. So, amidst that heaven of craggy hills, refreshing verdure and sloping grey tarmac, fully aware of my screaming legs and burning chest, I climbed on.
Follow this link for an account of our shenanigans on Day 2. It was a lot harder and a lot more rewarding. My apologies for the histrionics. I’ve been reading classics lately.
Here’s my ride data on Strava. I rode at the sweet spot of my power output, with occasional bursts on the hairpins. I’m happy that I never stopped, never panicked when half a dozen dogs gave chase, and especially that I never cramped. I HAVE gotten a lot stronger. 🙂
Follow this link for some photos from the day. There are some more videos (uncut and unabridged; pitifully short on time.) on my YouTube channel.